Of all the titles I have in this life the one that gives me the most joy, the most bewilderment and definitely the most consternation is my “mom” role. I blithely dance through life while wearing my other monikers; engineer, sister, friend, wife, and cousin. I mean there are bumps in every road, but in a macro sense I do not find myself shouldering the burden of every decision I make, as much as I do in my parenting role. Questioning not only my choices but my wisdom in making those choices. And by wisdom I mean, do I even have all the necessary marbles in my brain to make this decision? I am not talking about a narcissistic preoccupation centered on how I will look based on this decision, I am talking about a real sense of what the hell am I doing? I mean seriously IS there an app for this?
I love math, so what, you’re probably saying, well bear with me I’ll explain. I view life through a math-tinted lens, when I think about the advice, guidance, criticism, praise and support I give my children I see it this way. My kids are on their own unique journey with or without me it is their and only theirs, I do not posses it, and I believe I do not have a right to claim it as my own. However, like a vector in math I know the slightest, even most minute, change in angle on a vector will have greater and greater effects as the magnitude or length of the vector grows. So the little things that I do with my children, say to my children, advise my children about, acts as an external variable on their path. I believe, please hang with me math-haters, those external variables create slight adjustments in the angle of trajectory and grow in significance the further away we travel from the point of origin. So it sometimes overwhelms me, even with the so-called little things I do or avoid doing as a parent.
I put myself on heightened alert when I tread near my “regret bone yard” with my kids. People who have no regrets fascinate me I wish I could say I have no regrets, but I do, starting with I regret that I regret! I regret how I treated some people growing up, I regret that I did not stick with my chemistry major in my first attempt at college, I regret that I treated my mother poorly at times, I regret that I was not with my grandma and my dad when they took their last breath. Each regret has its own unique circumstances so when advising my children in any areas that overlaps a regret in my bone yard, I ask myself are you advising young Marsia, or are you advising your kids? I could lie and say I always answer my kids but I don’t, sometime I forget to ask the question or I ask and convince myself I am only thinking of the kids, this is where my parenting gets messy.
We all do it even those amazing put together parenting authors and shows, they have their messy moments. My messy parent internal alarm goes off when I start to feel that gnawing uncomfortable feeling. I believe our greatest lessons are in those awkward, uncomfortable circumstances and times in our life. So when I witness myself or another parent pushing kids in a direction the child doesn’t seem to have a passion for, I get that wobbly feeling.
Case in point, my daughter asked to take guitar lessons I was overjoyed! Oh boy one skeleton in my bone yard is the “I wish I would have played a musical instrument regret.” So here is one of those parenting mine fields for me, I start to watch every step so this whole thing does not blow up. I keep checking to make sure my intent is pure, my advise authentic. Am I pushing her to practice because she needs to learn commitment, to learn patience and realize the accomplishment for that patience and hard work, and not pushing her to clean up my bone yard? It really is a fine line we parents walk, if I am having my children make up for my regrets or if my passion becomes theirs, is their trajectory diverted so off path that their true purpose becomes more difficult to achieve or even see? And what about experience? Are we supposed to ignore our experience, no, but we can’t be consumed by it either. Sheesh, it’s complicated.
And what about failure? I have learned so much from my missteps, can I let my children fail? My mom and dad allowed me and my brother to fail, I can’t imagine what it took for them to stand by knowing full well we would fall flat on our face. I have seen children who are not allowed to fail, their parents make sure of it, I feel such compassion for those parents, but also great sorrow for those children. This has been difficult for me, to let my kids go into situations where I was not sure whether or not they would fail. I still struggle with it every single time. It drives me to distraction when my kids fail an assignment or test, however, my work as a parent is lessened with each failure I allow them to experience because that is where the really learning takes place. I still despise it.
So whether or not I know what the hell I am doing, and I am certain I do not, this is what I do, right or wrong, my parenting litmus test is the way people feel when they are with my kids, if they recall feeling hopeful, happy, or good, I must be doing ok as a parent. It’s the same test I use on myself as a human being.
It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself. ~Joyce Maynard
Have you ever had a series of events occur over a short period of time where there is this reoccurring theme? That has happened to me over the last week and the theme is humility. It started last Saturday while I was at a John Two-Hawks concert, which by the way his voice and music is fabulous, I have been listening to his CDs in my car ever since. John was describing how he, as a small Lakota boy growing up in Pine Ridge, could relate to the Christmas story of the drummer boy. The drummer boy is too poor to give the baby Jesus a gift so he plays his drum for him. John shared he could really relate to that story and the humility that story conveys. He was sharing this as his intro for his rendition of the drummer boy however when he started the music he realized he was supposed to be on a different song. He then said to us in the audience why didn’t you tell me I was on the wrong song? His lovely wife Peggy said, “I thought this was a lesson in humility,” everyone laughed including John it was wonderful and perfect.
Later in the week I met a friend for lunch and she was sharing the trials she has been going through over the last few months. I was very humbled by the fact that I have been so wrapped up in my own situation and she has been so supportive of me and yet I was not aware of the rough situation she was navigating this whole time. Lesson two in humility was coming through loud and clear.
Lesson three was more light-hearted and occurred this very morning. My daughter who inherited every bit of both her mother and father’s procrastination was running late, yet again . She rides the bus but has to walk a few blocks to the bus stop and many mornings I have to drive her to the bus stop to make it on time. Well this morning as I was turning the corner the bus had already picked up the kids and was starting to drive off. So I had to drive her to school instead, the only problem is that I had my pajamas on and had not brushed my hair. My poor neighborhood has seen me in my jammies before so it is no shock to their system but today I subjected a larger audience to my morning ensemble. Slightly embarrassed by this, I asked my daughter, can I drop you down the street from school and you just walk from there? She gave me this look, like a baby seal pup with those big brown eyes, no momma my backpack is too heavy, she wasn’t whining it really is. So talk about humility I drive right in to the drop-off line of cars, fully aware that everyone can see my disheveled appearance and better yet my comfy pajamas, which by the way have giant owls plastered all over them. My stepmother, whose sense of humor is marvelous, had a pair exactly like them and when a doctor came into her hospital room to check on her last spring he complimented her on her pj’s she said, “oh you like my hooters.” So talk about humility I am driving my work vehicle, yes it has our company logo on the side – geez I hope my business partner doesn’t read this, wearing my hooters.
The lesson in humility today did not stop there, I return home and my son asks me, as he does frequently, what he can do to earn more money. You see my son is very concerned about paying for his college, he is 10 years old. I hate to discourage him but I also don’t want him to worry incessantly about it. So this morning I told him that his father and I are saving some money for his college education too, so it will not fall solely on his shoulders. He said “but I don’t feel right about you using your money to pay for my college, and I want to make sure I don’t end up homeless and live like a hobo.” Talk about a lesson in humility. I was speechless, this little guy has learned more in his life than many adults learn in an entire lifetime. I explained to him that his father and I are doing everything we can to create an environment where he and his sister can learn to take care of themselves and do not end up homeless. I then explained that is why we make he and his sister earn money to buy certain things that they want rather than give it them. I also explained that is why we make them do their homework on their own. We check it if they want us to and we will tell them if it is correct or not but we do not give the right answers, and sometimes that means turning in homework that is not correct. I can proudly say my kids have earned every single grade they have received.
I am passionate about my responsibility as a parent and I praise my children when they do or say things that jump out to me as praiseworthy, but I am not comfortable boasting about my kids in public, just to be boasting. For instance now, if they say or do something beautiful, I want to share it and let them know I think it is beautiful. I think everyone is special and I feel by setting your kids above others it really sets them up for a huge tumble later on and I just don’t want to do that to them. So I guess in short we do try to keep it humble here without calling it out. There is this wonderful quote by Helen Neilsen, “Humility is like underwear, essential, but indecent if it shows.”
So today I promised my son I would think about some ways he can go about earning money for college, so I guess I need to start brainstorming. I told him he could learn to play an instrument and give performances like his cousin in Rapid City, or yard work, shoveling snow, etc….he said, but mom I want to do something that I am good at and is fun to do. Ahhhh, the childlike wonder and view of the world, I used to think that was foolish, now I realize that is where true wisdom exists, and that I shall not tread upon. So good at and fun it is……hmmmm any ideas out there?